‘Praise can do more harm than good’

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By SOPHIE BORLAND

London - Praising children with phrases such as ‘well done darling’ may damage their confidence, a leading psychologist has warned.

Stephen Grosz claims that comments such as ‘you’re so clever’ or ‘you’re such an artist’ could also hinder their future performance at school.

He says that such ‘empty praise’ causes children to be unhappy as they feel they cannot live up to the false expectations.

Instead he advises parents and teachers to bestow compliments less frequently and use phrases that congratulate children for ‘trying really hard’.

Mr Grosz – who has practised as a psychoanalyst, a type of psychologist, for 25 years – said: ‘Empty praise is as bad as thoughtless criticism – it expresses indifference to the child’s feelings and thoughts.

‘Admiring our children may temporarily lift our sense of self-esteem but it isn’t doing much for a child’s sense of self.’

He also cites research showing that children who were heavily praised were likely to perform worse at school.

Psychologists from Columbia University asked 128 pupils aged ten and 11 to solve a number of maths problems

Afterwards, some were told: ‘You did really well – you’re so clever.’

But the researchers told the other group, ‘You did really well – you must have tried really hard.’

Both groups of children were then given more difficult questions and those who had been told they were clever did not do as well as the others.

In fact, the researchers found they even tried to lie about their results when asked about the experiment. Mr Grosz has written a book about human behaviour, The Examined Life, which includes a chapter entitled How Praise Can Cause Loss of Confidence.

He says that when collecting his daughter from a nursery near their home in North London, he heard an assistant tell her: ‘You’ve drawn the most beautiful tree. Well done.’ Later, after she had done another drawing, the same assistant said: ‘Wow, you really are an artist.’

In his book, Mr Grosz writes: ‘My heart sank. How could I explain to the nursery assistant that I would prefer it if she didn’t praise my daughter?’

He added: ‘If you go to the local nursery you’ll hear this kind of stuff sometimes mixed in with teaching: ‘‘Oh, your drawing looks so like a Miro, darling’’ .

‘And so you get this mix of praise and teaching. I find it, to be blunt, aggressive. Because it’s saying: I don’t want to engage with you as a person; I want to just praise you.’

Mr Grosz believes that many adults were heavily criticised when they were young and are now anxious to show they are different.

But instead of overpraising children, he said parents should try to build their confidence gently. ‘Just listen to what your child wants to tell you, about what they’re interested in and what they’re passionate about,’ he added. - Daily Mail

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